India’s ace of spades and a jack of all trades

Mumbai: Let’s face it, how many of us actually remember how many deliveries Virat Kohli took to score a century on Wednesday night?

We all vaguely remember the innings being typically engineered, studded with excellence and plenty of singles and twos, but as soon as the magnitude of his record-breaking 50th One-Day International century captured the imagination, there was no objective gauging of the innings itself.


It was a good one, no doubt, but was it perfect? Retrospectively, yes and no.

It was, for it helped reiterate the genius of Kohli, and it played a part in bolstering India’s total against New Zealand in the semifinals of a World Cup, but arguably the most famous No.3 in ODI history ate up 106 deliveries en route this feat.

When his innings closed, he had scored 117 runs from 113 balls with nine fours and two sixes at a strike rate of 103.53. No one else who had gotten to double digits on the night had a strike rate lower than 121.

An argument could be made that India needed someone to consolidate, but India had gotten to 71 for 1 at the time of Rohit Sharma’s dismissal, and by the time Shubman Gill retired hurt on 80, India were on 164 for 1 in the 23rd over.

The truth is Kohli, having realised how far along they were at the stage, knew that in these fertile conditions, he could afford to play risk-free cricket and get that Sachin Tendulkar-sized monkey off his back.

It worked out eventually because India won. However, had New Zealand stuck around a bit longer and finished the job, Kohli would have been a rather blamable figure.

Rohit’s dance with the devil at the top of the order and Shreyas Iyer’s nonchalant dismantling of bowling attacks allow Kohli the luxury of time and deliveries. Oh, and there’s KL Rahul for good measure at No.5.

It’s peculiar that someone with close to 3000 runs in ODIs at an average of 50.50 is being spoken of more as a wicketkeeper than as a batter. Then again, that’s Rahul’s curse.

While it must feel good to be blessed with all the talent in the world, it can be fairly annoying that he has had to don so many roles, so many different batting positions and resultant changes to mindset.

He hasn’t really had to stretch himself thin in this tournament but when India have needed him to deliver, he has.

A classic case in point is that unbeaten 97 against Australia in Chennai, a knock which was built on the ruins of India’s rare top-order failure.

India were down three wickets for 2 runs and still ended up winning by six wickets with 52 balls to spare.

The reason we’re harping on strike rates is that had it not been for Rahul’s 20-ball 39, India might not have felt as confident on the stretch against New Zealand.

His was only the fifth-highest score in the innings, but those runs – more importantly, the pace at which they came – were the difference between settling for something in the ballpark of 370 as opposed to being three runs short of 400.

It would be foolhardy to ignore the impact of that number on the minds of pursuers. It would be just as injudicious to minimise Rahul’s role.

It’s not one everyone can do or has done well – ahem, Suryakumar Yadav – but that’s the thing, we expect Rahul to do it all – including don the keeping gloves as if a full-time wicketkeeper – and he delivers. Almost always.

Essentially, the man with the poker face is a man for all phases.

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